This is one of those user experience tips you can file under common sense, but it’s still something a lot of us forget or don’t even think about:
The simple idea of keeping your forms minimal and streamlined.
Any time someone is filling out information on your site, whether to register for an account, fill out preferences, request more information, make a purchase, etc. you are requesting something valuable from that user. And no, I’m not talking about their information – I’m talking about their time.
When we’re putting these requests for information on the site, we’re often most concerned with what information we’d all like to know about our customer. It’s easy to make a form with all the information you’d like to know – and then just simply make all but the most important fields required … but what you’re not considering is the impression the form itself makes on the customer.
If you’re not adding value stay out of the way.
You’d be hard-pressed to convince me there is any scenario in which filling out a form is adding value to the customer. Yes, you might use that information to give them added value – but the process itself? It’s not helping (okay – maybe if your form is a learn to type program). Stay out of the customer’s way. While a request for information may help them reach their goal, it’s definitely not part of what they had in mind when they first came to you.
No one says “boy I hope I get to type a lot of personal information out today.”
As I said earlier, every time you’re asking a customer to fill out a form, not only are you asking for their information, but you’re also asking for their time.
In our fast-paced modern world, time is one resource we put a lot of value on. When you show someone a form with 20 different fields, even if they are not all required, you’re immediately presenting them with a “fight or flight” kind of situation. They make a subconscious cost vs. benefit analysis.
Do they invest the time to battle through all those forms to make it to the goal? Or do they just ditch out on you, thinking (even subconsciously) wow that’s a lot of work?
The issue is even more pronounced when it comes to our primary way of interacting online, the mobile phone. While it is arguably simple to fill in a large amount of data with a keyboard, things change drastically when you’re moving to an iPhone.
Just think about it? How much of your long-form content (including longer emails) do you prefer to do on your laptop? And how long is your standard communication on mobile?
There’s a reason texting, messaging and posting updates are the most popular things to do on a phone – they’re easy to do with the device.
There’s also a reason you don’t often see someone sitting at the coffee shop composing a novel (or even a blog post, like I am right now) with a phone. (I’m on my Surface.)
Things to keep in mind the next time you’re putting together a form on your site or app.
- Only request the information you absolutely need.
If you don’t need a physical address right now, don’t ask for it. Do you really need that phone number? Or is an email address enough?
A Confession:I even give up on resumes that request massive amounts of unnecessary information that it’s already in my resume or completely unimportant at the early stage of a hiring process. If they’re not smart enough to know how to keep things clean and concise, I don’t want to work with them.
- Break the form up.
Nothing screams BAIL OUT! like a big block of empty fields waiting to be filled out. Think about what pieces of information go together and present those. Then when they fill out that information, ask for the next piece. This can even be as drastic as only asking for one piece of information at a time.
But be careful too! If you have too many steps in your form, people might start wondering if they’re ever going to finish. A progress bar can help out. Let them know what step they’re on – and try to keep the steps to a reasonable number.
- Examine where fall-off happens.
Set up analytics on your forms to see what fields people fill out, even without completely filling out all information. You might see where obvious break points or even simple rewording might help your completion rate.
- Consider a branching form.
You probably don’t need the same information from every customer or lead. Use logic to dynamically route people through the form, again only presenting them with requests for information that are crucial to have from them specifically.
- Prepopulate data where you can.
Let’s say a person’s country is an important piece of data for you to capture. Instead of asking them to pick it from a big drop down menu, pre-select it for them based on an IP address lookup system or something similar. If you know their email address, fill it in for them. The less information they have to fill out on their own, the better
Bonus tip: Make sure that when you make assumptions about data and prepopulate fields, you still make them easily editable. If a piece of data is wrong, and someone can’t fix it, they’ll abandon.
Of course there are many other things you can optimize and test in your forms – but the most important thing to keep in mind is simplicity. Above all, if your goal is to get people to actually fill out that information, you need to make it as painless as possible – and that includes the perception of pain, even before the typing begins.
What things about filling out forms online bugs the heck out of you? Share your complaints and grievances below so others can pick up on a few things they should probably stop doing themselves.